The Lakota West High School football team soared with a shutdown defensive performance last week in a 34-0 victory over Oak Hills.
And Jeremiah Ross had his hands all over it.
The senior cornerback intercepted three passes — that’s believed to be a single-game school record — for the Firebirds, who desperately needed a good showing after a 37-3 loss at Fairfield in Week 4.
WEEK 5 FOOTBALL COVERAGE
“Our team just came together and played, and we showed everybody what we could do,” Ross said. “It’s not the record we want right now, so we’re just trying to finish these games and win all of them out and be strong. That’s it.”
West is a modest 2-3 heading into Friday’s homecoming game against 4-1 Mason, a Greater Miami Conference tri-leader with Colerain and Fairfield.
But the Firebirds were just 2-8 the last two seasons, so they’ve got a chance to take a significant victory leap under interim head coach Jeff Wadl.
“Our kids haven’t given up, they haven’t backed down,” Wadl said. “Fairfield was ugly, they know that. But they also know that’s not who we are.
“We are a better football team than we were last year. Our young talent is starting to mature. I think if we can get things squared away at quarterback, we’re going to be a tough out for everybody we play down the road.”
Senior Manny Pastoriza, an Elder transfer, started the first four games at QB and completed 39-of-68 passes for 318 yards and no touchdowns with one interception. He ran 36 times for 35 yards.
Senior Deontai Christon, who moved into the area from Georgia last spring, got the start against Oak Hills and figures to be the No. 1 guy moving forward. He was 6-of-11 for 62 yards last week, though he did have some fumbling issues.
“What he lacks is experience at quarterback,” said Wadl, noting that Christon is a converted wide receiver/defensive back. “But he understands the game of football well enough that he can do a lot of things within the offense to help us out.
“In high school, you don’t draft or recruit your kids … well, we don’t, some schools do. But we need a quarterback and he’s filling a void and he’s the best athlete available at that position. As long as he stays within himself and lets the game come to him, he’s going to do OK back there.”
Wadl said Pastoriza, a linebacker at Elder last year, will be seeing some offensive action the rest of the season as a receiver or tailback.
“We really need more help on offense than we do on defense right now,” Wadl said. “Manny’s a good football player and a pretty versatile kid. It’s not like we’re forgetting about him and we’re going to let him sit on the bench the rest of the year.”
West intercepted Oak Hills sophomore quarterback Danny Flanigan four times after senior starter Ethan Myers went down with an injury in the first quarter.
Junior Truman Mason returned one of those picks 40 yards for a touchdown, and Ross got the rest of the interceptions.
Three is a big number for INTs in a single game, but Wadl wasn’t necessarily surprised that Ross was able to do that.
“It’s just being a ballhawk and being where you’re supposed to be,” Wadl said. “That’s what you expect out of a senior captain. When you stay within the scheme of the defense the way Coach (Carlton) Gray coaches it, if you’re doing your job, you’re going to get turnovers and make plays.”
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Ross didn’t start playing defensive back until his freshman year. He’d always been a running back and receiver.
“I love it now,” he said of being a DB. “You’ve got to have the swag for it. Not a lot of people understand that.
“I would say that I’m long, fast, physical, I play with good technique, and I’m going to compete the whole entire game with any wideout in the conference. You’re going to get a good competitor out of me. I hate losing.”
And what about his three picks against the Highlanders?
“I didn’t think I would get that much action coming into the game, but it was good,” Ross said. “After I made the third interception, I was like, ‘This has to be a school record.’ But I didn’t know for sure, and I didn’t ask anybody.”
He verbally committed to the University of Cincinnati in June and chose the Bearcats over schools like Indiana, Minnesota and Kentucky.
“I was just thinking about the team that was showing me the most love and support and where I could see myself being in the next two to four years,” Ross said. “UC was the best option for me.”
What: Mason (4-1, 3-0 GMC) at Lakota West (2-3, 1-2 GMC), 7 p.m.
Where: Firebird Stadium, 8940 Union Centre Blvd., West Chester Twp.
Series: Mason leads 6-5 and has won the last three meetings, including 31-0 in 2017